U.S. SUSPECTS CUBA SPREADS BIO WEAPONS
Tuesday, May 7th 2002, 1:72AM
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration launched a broadside at Cuba yesterday, charging the Communist regime 90 miles from Florida may be making and selling biological weapons.
Cuba - along with Syria and Libya - is part of another "axis of evil," Deputy Secretary of State John Bolton told the conservative Heritage Foundation. The original evil trio was Iran, Iraq and North Korea.
Bolton said Cuba is suspected to have "at least a limited" offensive biological weapons program - the first time the charge has been made.
Calling Cuba a rogue state, he said the tiny nation, noted for its advanced medical facilities, "has provided dual-use biotechnology to other rogue states."
He did not offer evidence but noted that Cuban dictator Fidel Castro visited Syria, Iran and Libya last May.
"We call on Cuba to cease all cooperation with rogue states and to fully comply with all of its obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention," Bolton said.
Cuba has long been on the State Department's list of countries that sponsor terrorism.
Last year, a Cuban defector charged his country sold legitimate vaccine techniques to Iran that could easily be used to produce biological weapons.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said he would not add to Bolton's comments.
"It was very carefully done, and I'm going leave it at what he said," Boucher said.
There was no immediate reaction from Havana.
Meanwhile, across town, Assistant Secretary of State Otto Reich suggested Cuba was involved in last month's failed coup in Venezuela.
He said four Cuban planes reportedly landed in Caracas during the coup attempt. "What they were doing there, what they were carrying, we don't know," he said.
NM Gov. On Cuba Mission, Plans White House Report
Filed at 6:34 p.m. ET
SAN FRANCISCO DE PAULA, Cuba (AP) -- New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Wednesday he plans to report to Barack Obama's administration his assessment of Cuba-U.S. relations following a five-day trade mission to the island even though he is not an official envoy of Washington.
Richardson is meeting with a host of Cuban government officials, including a scheduled encounter Thursday with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. He met Monday with Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba's parliament. So far, everyone has brought up the U.S. embargo and other aspects of U.S. policy, Richardson said, without elaborating.
''I'm not an envoy of the (Obama) administration. I'm carrying no message. I'm here as a governor seeking agricultural trade,'' he said.
''Obviously I do plan to submit my impressions to the administration after I conclude,'' he added. ''I will do that as a citizen and as a governor. They're my impressions alone.''
As a congressman, Richardson secured the release of three Cuban political prisoners during talks with then-President Fidel Castro in Havana in 1996. As U.N. ambassador in 1997, he held talks on terrorism with then-Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina.
Richardson supported Obama's declaration during last year's U.S. presidential campaign that he would be open to meeting current President Raul Castro without preconditions. The governor also has opposed lifting the U.S. embargo, while advocating negotiations with Cuba to promote human rights.
The Obama administration has relaxed restrictions on Cuban Americans' travel and money transfers to family on the island. Most U.S. citizens cannot visit -- technically, the U.S. Treasury Department bars them from spending money in Cuba -- in tandem with the U.S. embargo imposed in 1962 to weaken Cuba's Communist government.
The U.S. and Cuba also are resuming talks on migration and direct mail, but they have sparred over a U.S. suggestion that Havana release its political prisoners. Cuba insists that any dialogue have no preconditions.
Richardson made his remarks to The Associated Press while visiting Ernest Hemingway's former villa, Finca Vigia, in San Francisco de Paula, 15 miles (25 kilometers) east of central Havana.
Richardson marveled at Hemingway's extensive book and art collections, his mounted trophies from hunting expeditions in Africa and Idaho, his office and his fishing boat, El Pilar, during a tour of the villa. The governor donated a replica of a vintage telephone used by Hemingway to curators of the home, now a museum, on behalf of the state of New Mexico -- and said all U.S. citizens should be able to visit such cultural gems.
''There's a link between Hemingway and the United States and Cuba, and now there's a New Mexico link,'' he said. ''I think enhancing cultural and artistic and educational ties is a prelude to diplomatic and commercial ties. It always happens that way.''
''I'm for enhanced tourism travel for Americans.''
Richardson said that travel should go beyond the so-called people-to-people educational and cultural contacts promoted by the Bill Clinton administration. Opponents of enhanced travel argue it would only help subsidize a government that doesn't tolerate dissent.Richardson and state Cabinet officials are promoting exports of New Mexico beef, corn, wheat, potatoes and apples. Despite the embargo, U.S. states can sell agricultural and certain other products to Cuba, though sales on credit are prohibited.